Geopolitics

Geopolitics Geopolitics is the applied study of the relationships of geographical space to politics. Geopolitics, therefore, concerned with the reciprocal impact of spatial patterns, features, and structures and political ideas, institutions, and transactions. The term ‘Geopolitics’ has originally invented, in 1899, by a Swedish political scientist, Rudolf Kjellen and its original meaning is to signify a general concern with geography and politics. However, defining the concept of ‘geopolitics’ itself is a considerably difficult task because definition of geopolitics tends to changes as historical periods of time and structures of world order change. Therefore, there have been numerous ways of interpreting the term and arguments on them all through the history. In this essay, I intend to examine how geopolitics has influenced on international relations and how it has evolved using well-known geopoliticians’ theories in a chronological order: Imperialist, Cold War, and New World Order.

Imperialist Geopolitics In early 20th century, geopolitics was a form of power or knowledge concerned with promoting states expansionism and securing empires. It was a time characterized by colonial expansionism abroad and industrial modernization at home. This is also the time when natural supremacy of a certain race or the state has considerably prevailed. The most historically and geographically fated imperialist rivalry of the period was that of between British Empire and the rising imperial aspirations of the German state in Europe. In order to investigate the geopolitical tension between them, the geopolitical writings of the British geographer Halford Mackinder and of the German geopolitician Karl Haushofer have to be thoroughly examined.

In addition, it is also needed to examine the view of the far side across the Atlantic, the United States that emerged as a significant player on world’s stage later on. First of all, the starting point for almost all discussions of geopolitics is Sir Halford Mackinder, a member of the British Parliament who wrote “The Geographic Pivot of History” in 1904. He addressed the importance in the history of geopolitics for three reasons in his work; for its god’s eye global view; for its division of the globe into vast swaths of history, and for its sweeping story of geography’s conditioning influence on the course of history and politics. First, he argues that “Geopolitics is a new way of seeing international politics as a unified worldwide scene” and adopts a god’s eye global view which looks down on what he calls “the stage of the whole world”: For the first time we can perceive something of the real proportion of features and events on the stage of the whole world and may seek a formula which shall express certain aspects, at any rate, of geographical causation in history. In this sentence, ‘we’ implies the geopolitical experts, educated and privileged white men who can perceive the real political features.

This sentence shows all the basic elements of imperialist geopolitics, such as the divine eye gaze on the world, only experts can perceive the real and the desire to reveal laws to explain all of history. However, this view has been criticized for the reason that imperialists only see within the structures of meaning provided by their socialization into certain backgrounds, intellectual contexts and political culture and beliefs. Second, he suggests the map of “The Natural Seats of Power”. To illustrate his thesis geographically, Mackinder labels enormous tracts of territory with simple identities like “pivot area.” He eliminates the tremendous geographical diversity and specificity of places on earth. Difference becomes sameness. Geographical heterogeneity becomes geopolitical homogeneity. Third, he argues “the geographical causation of history” in the application of the sweeping theory.

At the centre of this theory shows the relationship between physical geography and transportation technology. Until the end of nineteenth century, sea power was the supreme, but by then, railroads were making it possible to move large armies quickly over vast land areas. Mackinder wanted his government, which had achieved glory as a sea power, to be prepared for the rise of a land power, obviously Germany at that time. In his famous “heartland theory”, he renamed Euro-Asia, “the world island” and the “pivot area”, “the heartland”. Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the world island; Who rules the world island commands the world. According to his simple strategic argument, what must be prevented is German expansionism in Eastern Europe and a German alliance with the Soviet Union for the time.

In spite of his effort, his idea had a little impact on British foreign policy. The reason is said that his way of interpreting human history is too simplistic and far geographically deterministic, and he failed to aware of the emergence of revolutionary air power in 20th century led by mostly the United States. He underestimated the power of the United States while he overestimated the vast spaces of Russian “heart land.” By 1904, the United States had emerged as a significant player in international relations. They started expanding their territories with strategic naval forces. Admiral Alfred Mahan who announced sea power doctrine, which stressed the significance of overseas naval bases.

He argued in an institutionally self-serving way that the path to national greatness lay in commercial and naval expansionism. All truly great powers were naval powers. It is not necessary to acquire all territories and formally occupy them; what the Unite States needed was an informal empire based on “open door” trade and a string of overseas naval bases that would give its navy the ability to protect power in a troublesome region whenever it needed to do so. To back up this view in a concrete sense, Theodore Roosevelt applied social Darwinian ideology. He emphasized that all the races are in a struggle for survival and only the fittest and the strongest can survive.

He wrote ” there is no place in the world for nations who have become enervated by soft and easy life, or who have lost their fibre of vigorous hardiness and manliness.” Along with his view, the most civilized and superior state in the world, the United States had a right to exercise an international power in the region to keep troublesome and, namely, uncivilized states. In Germany, a former military officer Karl von Haushofer, who was anxious to avenge Germany’s post-World War I humiliations and rebuild the German empire, advocated a strong nationalistic imperialist geopolitics. Like many of veterans of World War II, he had a deep hatred of the peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, which took away Germany’s colonies and part of its national territories after the war. After the Treaty, he believed that Germany’s need for Lebensraum (living space) was greater than ever. Haushofer’s crusade to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles led him to found the journal Zeitschrift fur Geopolitik in 1924.

This journal helped Haushofer create a new school of geography. Mixing the social Darwinist ideas and the ideas of Mackinder, he attempted to reduce the complexity of International relations. In order to survive, according to Haushofer, the German state must achieve Lebensraum. The best way of achieving is for Germany to develop alliance with the heartland power, the Soviet Union. Furthermore, he argued that Germany should align with Japan and create “maritime-continental” block, stretching from Germany throughout Russia to Japan.

In “why geopolitik”, he claims that the reason Germany lost World War I was because its leader did not study geopolitics. He said that geopolitics is the study of the “earth-boundedness” of political processes and institutions. Like Mackinder, he attributes special power to the god-like geopolitician, treating geopolitics as a faith that offers divine revelations. His persistent emphasis on the need for geopolitical education is nothing more than a legitimation for the right-wing militarist foreign policy. Haushofer’s acknowledgement led to a militarist and nationalistic version of Nazi regime that produced a murderous and brutal war in the 20th century. Furthermore, his ideas justified the practice of many chauvinist, racist, imperialist ideologies. However, geopolitics did not disappear after World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany.

All these views of imperialist geopolitics gave way to a newly emergent Cold War geopolitics. Cold War Geopolitics Questions of geography were always deeply indicated in the Cold War that developed between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. After the war, bipolar system has been clearly formed. The Cold War is a political structure based upon two contrary relations between the superpowers-opposition and dependence. Theories of opposition are concerned the Cold War as either the result of the Soviet threat or an outcome of US imperialism.

In either case, the conflict implies the one between communism and capitalism. The Cold War created the term ‘Third World’ and the division of space into a First World of capitalist states, a Second World of communist states, and a Third World of developing states. This also reflects the North-South issues of massive global material inequality. The Truman Doctrine is the first significant statement of American Cold War geopolitics. Like the imperialists geopoliticians, Truman adopts a god’s eye globe view and uses simple and abstract categories of “the free world” and “the enslaved world”, which is black and white reasoning.

This geographical map became the geographical monochrome of good vs. evil, capitalism vs. communism, the West vs. the East, and the US vs. the Soviet Union.

These simplistic reasoning has drawn the domino theory. Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, explained before Congress that like: Apples in a …